FRANCE = FORCING PEOPLE TO HONOR A DISHONORABLE DEGRADING OF THE UNPROTECTED AND UNFORTUNATE
“Why I am not Charlie” by Scott Long on Jan 9, 2015 on mondoweiss.net
The message today is, I have to agree with what you say, in order to defend it. = We all have to endorse the racist cartoons and republish them. = The business of telling people what they must publish. If you don’t copy the cartoons, you’re colluding with the killers, you’re a coward.
There’s a perfectly good reason not to republish the cartoons that has nothing to do with cowardice or caution. I refuse to post them because I think they’re racist and offensive. I can support your right to publish something, and still condemn what you publish. I can defend what you say, and still say it’s wrong — isn’t that the point of the quote (that wasn’t) from Voltaire?
I am offended when those already oppressed in a society are deliberately insulted. I don’t want to participate. This crime in Paris does not suspend my political or ethical judgment, or persuade me that scatologically smearing a marginal minority’s identity and beliefs is a reasonable thing to do. Yet this means rejecting the only authorized reaction to the atrocity.
Oddly, this peer pressure seems to gear up exclusively where Islam’s involved. When a racist bombed a chapter of a US civil rights organization this week, the media didn’t insist I give to the NAACP in solidarity.
The demand to join, endorse, agree is all about crowding us into a herd where no one is permitted to support or condemn = Thoughtcrime
We’ve heard that if the satire aims at everybody, those forays into racism, Islamophobia, and anti-Semitism can be excused away. To defend satire because it’s indiscriminate is to admit that it discriminates against the defenseless. Satire has always fed on distaste for minorities, marginal peoples, traditional or fading ways of life.
Voltaire loathed a powerless religion, the outsiders of his own era, the “medieval,” “barbaric” immigrant minority that afflicted Europe: the Jews. Voltaire’s anti-Semitism was comprehensive. In its contempt for the putatively “primitive,” it anticipates much that is said about Muslims in Europe and the US today. “The Jews never were natural philosophers, nor geometricians, nor astronomers,” Voltaire declared. The Jews, Voltaire wrote, are “only an ignorant and barbarous people, who have long united the most sordid avarice with the most detestable superstition and the most invincible hatred for every people by whom they are tolerated and enriched.”
When some American right-wing yahoo calls Muslims “goatfuckers,” you might think he’s reciting old Appalachian invective. In fact, he’s repeating Voltaire’s jokes about the Jews. “You assert that your mothers had no commerce with he-goats, nor your fathers with she-goats,” Voltaire demanded of them. “But pray, gentlemen, why are you the only people upon earth whose laws have forbidden such commerce? Would any legislator ever have thought of promulgating this extraordinary law if the offence had not been common?”
Most of Voltaire’s admirers avoid or veil his anti-Semitism. Satire can sometimes liberate us, but it is not immune from our prejudices or untainted by our hatreds. It shouldn’t douse our critical capacities; calling something “satire” doesn’t exempt it from judgment. The superiority the satirist claims over the helpless can be both smug and sinister.
“The conviction of being a superior being, empowered to look down on ordinary mortals from on high, is the surest way to sabotage your own intellectual defenses.”
Voltaire didn’t realize that his Jewish victims were weak or powerless. Already, in the 18th century, he saw them as tentacles of a financial conspiracy; his propensity for overspending and getting hopelessly in debt to Jewish moneylenders did a great deal to shape his anti-Semitism.
In the same way, Charlie Hebdo never treated Muslim immigrants as individuals, but as agents of some larger force. They weren’t strivers doing the best they could in an unfriendly country, but shorthand for mass religious ignorance, or tribal terrorist fanaticism. Satire subsumes the human person in an inhuman generalization.
Islamophobes cling to ideologies and melt people into a mass; they erase individuals’ attributes and aspirations under a totalizing vision of what identity means. So all Muslims fit their narrow mold.
It’s NOT time to “de-Islamize our country.” Juan Cole writes that the Charlie Hebdo attack was “a strategic strike, aiming at polarizing the French and European public” — at “sharpening the contradictions.” The knives are sharpening too, on both sides.
We lose our ability to imagine political solutions when we stop thinking critically, when we let emotional identifications sweep us into factitious substitutes for solidarity and action.
To combat violence you must look unflinchingly at the concrete inequities and practices that breed it.
I support free speech. I oppose all censors. I abhor the killings. I mourn the dead. I am not Charlie.